Category Archives: Sectarian violence

The Egyptian Inquisition

DemianaAbdelnour

— By: Alexandra Kinias —

The hopes of 24 years old school teacher Demiana Abdel-Nour to return home from self-exile were postponed indefinitely, on June 16, 2014, when the Egyptian appeals court upheld a blasphemy conviction against her and sentenced her to six months in prison, in addition to the earlier ruling that only imposed a fine of LE 100,000. Among the many challenges taking place in Egypt, the developments in Abdel-Nour’s case were sidelined by most Egyptian media.

The young teachers’ nightmare started in May 2013, when parents of three of her pupils, accused her of insulting Islam and the Prophet Muhammad by saying that the late Pope Shenouda III performed more miracles than the Prophet. They also alleged that she placed her hand on her stomach to convey nausea when mentioning the Prophet. These accusations were entirely based on the testimony of the three students, all under the age of ten. Abdel-Nour denied all allegations, and the school administration as well as the confessions of ten other students acknowledged that there was no truth to any of those claims. Yet on filing the charges, the young teacher was immediately arrested and thrown in jail, pending investigations of the charges.

Two weeks into her arrest and after going on a hunger strike Abdel-Nour was released on LE 20,000 bail. Soon after she fled to France, in fear of the consequences, after the court refused her defense request to admit witnesses and reports demonstrating her innocence. And according to her lawyer, she was mentally preparing herself to seek asylum in France if the courts ruled against her, which is exactly what happened.

The incident of Abdel-Nour is not an isolated one, but another in the long strand of events that target the Coptic minorities and affirms that the religious intolerance is steadily increasing. It is only predictable that this phenomenon that has grown roots in the society will eventually become a trait in the absence of the supervision of civil institutions. However, what came as a disappointment was that this verdict was the first after the new constitution has promised equality and freedom of religion to all Egyptians.

Defamation of religion is a phenomenon that is practiced in societies where religious extremism is rooted. In such societies, zealots condemn, prosecute and kill those who speak out against their faith, while giving themselves the license to do and say the exact same against other religions. With the rise of conservatism, Egypt is aggressively following in the footsteps of countries that have been labeled among the worse in freedom of religion. And while it didn’t come as a surprise what the young teacher had to go through, I somehow had hoped for a miracle that would reverse the heritage of long decades of ignorance and intolerance, forgetting that magic wands are only used in fairy-tales.

Abdel-Nour’s case reminded me of the Spanish-American movie “Goya’s Ghosts” by Milos Forman that took place during the time of the Spanish inquisition where Muslims and Jews were prosecuted for practicing their faith. Ines, a young catholic woman, the character played by Natalie Portman, was accused of being a heretic because she decides not to eat a pork roast; a dish she particularly doesn’t favor, that was served to her in a tavern. And before she knew it, she was tortured by the Inquisition on the accounts that her dietary choice is dictated not by taste but by her clandestine conversion to Judaism. Ines was sent to 15 years in jail on the alleged charges, with no proof.

Abdel-Nour’s case was similar to Natalie Portman’s character in “Goya’s Ghosts”. While the fate of Ines was decided by speculations, Abdel-Nour’s was decided by the testimonies of three school kids under the age of ten.

Unfortunately, Abdel-Nour’s will not be the last case of blasphemy Egypt will witness in the near future. If the fate of a young woman was decided by the testimonials of three under age school children, we might as well bid adieu to a country that was once a safe haven to all religions. And unless the government that has promised equality and religious freedom and safety to its Coptic minority exerts tangible measures, together with social organizations, to promote civility into a society that has been injected with religious intolerance for many decades, one fears that Egypt may revert back to medieval times.

Sectarian tension won’t simply vanish overnight by just adding a clause in the constitution, but by working hard to burn out the sentiments that ignite them, from both sides. And Abdel-Nour’s case is yet another example that has left a bitter taste in the mouths of all Copts. For it is not merely about a person sentenced to jail, but of the right of citizenship that is divided equally among the partners of the land.

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Filed under Editorial, Sectarian violence

The Night the Virgin Mary Wept

tearVirginMary-viBy: Alexandra Kinias —

I pulled myself out of bed and put an end to another long insomniac night. Sleep had been unattainable since the news of the army dispersing the Muslim Brotherhood’s (MB) sit-ins that were occupying the streets of Cairo, Egypt took center stage, and the anticipated violence and terrorist attacks by the ousted President’s followers were swiping the country from one corner to the other, as they had promised.

Filled with exhaustion after several sleepless nights, I crawled out of bed and back to my computer screen that I bid goodnight few hours earlier. The crickets were screeching in the silence of the hot August night, dense with humidity. I felt the heat of the blazing fires that burned down the churches in Egypt, fifty of them, few thousand miles away. I saw the dark nights glowing with the flames and smelled the smoke; it had choked me in my dreams. The images of the destroyed churches, monasteries, religious institutes, and the nuns captured by the terrorists and paraded in the streets like prisoners of war  will be engraved in the minds of millions of Egyptians.

1185958_10151804645090977_830270665_n

Two weeks before the celebration of the Virgin Mary’s assumption to heaven, on August 22, many Copts (Egyptian Christians) around Egypt were left with no church to attend their mass in. The Copts had been targeted by the MB terrorists in unprecedented acts of violence against them in the history of modern Egypt. Burning their houses of worship was a direct attack on their faith that left them in pain, anger and humiliation, and left Egyptians and the world in shock at the atrocities committed by these terrorists towards the people of the Book  (Believers of the Abrahamic Religions)

My heart swelled with heaviness and gloom as I contemplated about the escalating events in Egypt, the country of my birth. As a result of the forceful dispersion by the army after all negotiations to a peaceful end to the sit-ins, that had been disrupting and terrorizing the lives of Egyptians for almost six weeks, failed, the MB members (terrorists in disguise), went on a wild burning spree that torched the country. Police stations and 50 churches were burnt in retaliation. They had promised twice to burn down the country and ignite a civil war. The first time, if Morsi lost the elections, and the second time, if he was not released from jail after his arrest on July 3rd. The terrorists of the Muslim Brotherhood organization indeed delivered on their promise.

954786_621812947839820_1780043752_n

 Escalating the violence was the first step to create a chaos to destabilize the country.  In a calculated move, they torched down the churches to provoke the Copts, to incite violence and to ignite a civil war between the two factions of the society; the Muslims and the Copts. The followers of the ousted Morsi blamed them  for the role they played to bring down their President. Had they abstained from joining the marches against Morsi, they would have been saved, Morsi’s terrorists explained. That was just a lame excuse to cover up for their hatred and hostility they have been carrying in their hearts towards the Copts all along.

999121_10151694299889193_169569643_n

A beam of light illuminated the streets of Egypt on Jan 2011 when the revolution against Mubarak rocked the country. Muslims and Copts  took the streets side by side in the revolution that ousted Mubarak, defying all their fears and the consequences had the revolution failed. Death didn’t differentiate between the faiths of the young people who lost their lives. Their blood mixed on the asphalt  and their mothers shared the same grief of losing a loved one. For the first time ever the church choir performed in public, on the Tahrir Square stage, where church hymns were chanted by all attendees, in a very emotional moment that prompted hope in restoring the national unity. In this time of crisis, it seemed that the partners of the nation were properly introduced to each other. Coexistence, tolerance, acceptance were words that have been used in the past, but they were felt for the first time in the hearts of the millions that gathered in Tahrir Square. The future looked hopeful – the horizon looked brighter.

Then Morsi came to power. The president in his acceptance speech forgot to mention all the partners in the nation. For him and his organization, the Copts don’t exist. He never mended any fences with them. On the contrary, sectarian tension escalated, violence never stopped against the Copts and the Pope’s headquarters in Cairo were attacked by MB supporters in broad day light under the watchful eyes of Morsi’s security forces. History will record that Morsi’s year in office witnessed the first attack on the seat of Christianity in Egypt in more than 1,400 years.

1185680_689043274457215_1114399553_n

After his failed year in office, Copts felt they were not the only ones targeted by the Muslim Brotherhood’s regime. Together with everybody else who didn’t belong to the MB camp, they were all in the same boat sailing towards an unknown fate. And when the Egyptians were called upon to take the streets on June 30th demanding Morsi’s resignation, Copts were back in the front lines side by side with their counterparts. And the revolution resulted in the ousting of Morsi and elevated the wrath against the Copts from his supporters.

1009846_433623150088914_643043813_n

After the churches were burnt down to the ground, the Pope of Egypt issued a statement that the Copts won’t just sacrifice their churches for Egypt, but also their lives. A strong message that all Egyptians are standing united against the destabilization of their country. The churches will be built again. But the churches are not made up of just walls and roofs. They are made of faith that resides in the hearts of millions of Coptic Egyptians.  The Copts of Egypt have put their lives and their faith in the front lines for their country and the least they should expect of her is to re-evaluate their relationship. Only a constitution based on equality between all factions of the country will help to mend their broken hearts,  erase the feelings of humiliation and restore their pride and dignity.

May the celebrations of the Virgin Mary’s assumption to Heaven bring back Peace to the land where The Holy family took refuge two thousand years ago. The land of Egypt that was mentioned in all the Holy Books will forever remain blessed.

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The Night the Virgin Mary Wept

tearVirginMary-viBy: Alexandra Kinias —

I pulled myself out of bed and put an end to another long insomniac night. Sleep had been unattainable since the news of the army dispersing the Muslim Brotherhood’s (MB) sit-ins that were occupying the streets of Cairo, Egypt took center stage, and the anticipated violence and terrorist attacks by the ousted President’s followers were swiping the country from one corner to the other, as they had promised.

Filled with exhaustion after several sleepless nights, I crawled out of bed and back to my computer screen that I bid goodnight few hours earlier. The crickets were screeching in the silence of the hot August night, dense with humidity. I felt the heat of the blazing fires that burned down the churches in Egypt, fifty of them, few thousand miles away. I saw the dark nights glowing with the flames and smelled the smoke; it had choked me in my dreams. The images of the destroyed churches, monasteries, religious institutes, and the nuns captured by the terrorists and paraded in the streets like prisoners of war  will be engraved in the minds of millions of Egyptians.

1185958_10151804645090977_830270665_n

Two weeks before the celebration of the Virgin Mary’s assumption to heaven, on August 22, many Copts (Egyptian Christians) around Egypt were left with no church to attend their mass in. The Copts had been targeted by the MB terrorists in unprecedented acts of violence against them in the history of modern Egypt. Burning their houses of worship was a direct attack on their faith that left them in pain, anger and humiliation, and left Egyptians and the world in shock at the atrocities committed by these terrorists towards the people of the Book  (Believers of the Abrahamic Religions)

My heart swelled with heaviness and gloom as I contemplated about the escalating events in Egypt, the country of my birth. As a result of the forceful dispersion by the army after all negotiations to a peaceful end to the sit-ins, that had been disrupting and terrorizing the lives of Egyptians for almost six weeks, failed, the MB members (terrorists in disguise), went on a wild burning spree that torched the country. Police stations and 50 churches were burnt in retaliation. They had promised twice to burn down the country and ignite a civil war. The first time, if Morsi lost the elections, and the second time, if he was not released from jail after his arrest on July 3rd. The terrorists of the Muslim Brotherhood organization indeed delivered on their promise.

954786_621812947839820_1780043752_n

 Escalating the violence was the first step to create a chaos to destabilize the country.  In a calculated move, they torched down the churches to provoke the Copts, to incite violence and to ignite a civil war between the two factions of the society; the Muslims and the Copts. The followers of the ousted Morsi blamed them  for the role they played to bring down their President. Had they abstained from joining the marches against Morsi, they would have been saved, Morsi’s terrorists explained. That was just a lame excuse to cover up for their hatred and hostility they have been carrying in their hearts towards the Copts all along.

999121_10151694299889193_169569643_n

A beam of light illuminated the streets of Egypt on Jan 2011 when the revolution against Mubarak rocked the country. Muslims and Copts  took the streets side by side in the revolution that ousted Mubarak, defying all their fears and the consequences had the revolution failed. Death didn’t differentiate between the faiths of the young people who lost their lives. Their blood mixed on the asphalt  and their mothers shared the same grief of losing a loved one. For the first time ever the church choir performed in public, on the Tahrir Square stage, where church hymns were chanted by all attendees, in a very emotional moment that prompted hope in restoring the national unity. In this time of crisis, it seemed that the partners of the nation were properly introduced to each other. Coexistence, tolerance, acceptance were words that have been used in the past, but they were felt for the first time in the hearts of the millions that gathered in Tahrir Square. The future looked hopeful – the horizon looked brighter.

Then Morsi came to power. The president in his acceptance speech forgot to mention all the partners in the nation. For him and his organization, the Copts don’t exist. He never mended any fences with them. On the contrary, sectarian tension escalated, violence never stopped against the Copts and the Pope’s headquarters in Cairo were attacked by MB supporters in broad day light under the watchful eyes of Morsi’s security forces. History will record that Morsi’s year in office witnessed the first attack on the seat of Christianity in Egypt in more than 1,400 years.

1185680_689043274457215_1114399553_n

After his failed year in office, Copts felt they were not the only ones targeted by the Muslim Brotherhood’s regime. Together with everybody else who didn’t belong to the MB camp, they were all in the same boat sailing towards an unknown fate. And when the Egyptians were called upon to take the streets on June 30th demanding Morsi’s resignation, Copts were back in the front lines side by side with their counterparts. And the revolution resulted in the ousting of Morsi and elevated the wrath against the Copts from his supporters.

1009846_433623150088914_643043813_n

After the churches were burnt down to the ground, the Pope of Egypt issued a statement that the Copts won’t just sacrifice their churches for Egypt, but also their lives. A strong message that all Egyptians are standing united against the destabilization of their country. The churches will be built again. But the churches are not made up of just walls and roofs. They are made of faith that resides in the hearts of millions of Coptic Egyptians.  The Copts of Egypt have put their lives and their faith in the front lines for their country and the least they should expect of her is to re-evaluate their relationship. Only a constitution based on equality between all factions of the country will help to mend their broken hearts,  erase the feelings of humiliation and restore their pride and dignity.

May the celebrations of the Virgin Mary’s assumption to Heaven bring back Peace to the land where The Holy family took refuge two thousand years ago. The land of Egypt that was mentioned in all the Holly Books will forever remain blessed.

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Egypt’s Uprising Terror

Demonstration against terrorism by both Christian Copts and Muslims  denouncing the bombing of the church.

By: Alexandra Kinias

Twenty minutes into the New Year and in one of the worst terrorist attacks on the Coptic Christian minorities in Egypt, a suicide bomber detonated himself in front of the church of al-Qiddissine – Two Saints in Alexandria, as worshipers were exiting after the midnight mass. The bomb that killed 23 and injured 97 also hammered another nail in the coffin of the country’s once tightly woven national fabric and raised more concern over the fragile status of the Copts. Once owners of the land, now, not only do they suffer from discrimination, but also are fearful for their safety and their future.

The incident marked another step in the decline of Egypt’s prosperity, a country once was a mélange of beliefs where Jews, Christians and Muslims lived in harmony before the Jews of Egypt were expelled in the mid of the twentieth century. In the rising milieu of religious intolerance, the fate of the country, with the rise of sectarian tension, is held by thin strings in the hands of manipulative puppeteers with a geopolitical agenda of destroying its soul, and thus its identity, as an initial step to reshape the region.

The puppet makers held responsible for this tragedy are members of Al Qaida’s Iraqi affiliate – The Islamic State in Iraq (ISI). On November 1, 2010, two months to date prior to the attack on the Alexandria Church, armed men, affiliated with this group raided the Church of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad while prayer was held and took the worshipers hostages, after killing the priest. The militants made contact with the authorities by mobile phone, demanding the release of Al-Qaeda prisoners and also two Coptic priests’ wives they insisted were being held prisoner by the Coptic Church in their monasteries in Egypt, against their will, after converting to Islam, an allegation denied by the church.

The dramatic Baghdad Church standoff ended with the death of at least 52 hostages during the rescue operation.

The Islamic State in Iraq (ISI) claimed responsibility for the Alexandria attack and warned the Egyptian Copts of more attacks after they renewed their demand of releasing Camellia Shehata and Wafaa Constantine.

So what is so significant about these two women that their abduction tale would result in the slaying of all these people and escalate threats to bomb more churches? The answer is absolutely nothing. However, the puppeteers are well aware of what strings to pull to arouse religious sentiments among the masses to create chaos.

Both Shehata and Constantine’s family disputes had been distorted into news about their conversion to Islam. Stories of Coptic women abandoning their faith are almost always a catalyst that ignites the sentiments of fellow Copts. The procedure is not common, but it often happens. Since divorce is unattainable in Christianity, some women or men convert to Islam to dissolve the matrimony

In 2004, after the disappearance of Constantine, Coptic protestors demonstrated for days when an announcement was made about her conversion. Few days later, the woman resurfaced and was handed back to her church. Not much explanation was given regarding the incident, but a lot of rumors hovered over her head.

A similar incident happened in 2010 when Shehata left her house after a marital dispute. Her husband reported her disappearance as a kidnap with the purpose of forced conversion. Upon the circulation of such news, the Copts organized demonstrations, if were not contained, would have ripped the stability of the country apart. Few days later, Shehata was found by national security forces hiding at one of her friends. The priest’s wife was returned  back to her husband, but not before organized counter protests mobilized by zealous fellow Muslims requested the return of their Muslim sister back to them.

A report on Camellia  on Al Jezeira English

Later, Shehata, who there was no evidence of her conversion other than rumors printed in yellow newspapers, appeared on a video circulated on youtube and announced that she never abandoned her faith and requested that her private life not to become material for more news articles.

Camellia Shehata appears on TV and denies her conversion

The puppeteers have used the two women as lure for creating chaos among the masses. Without their intervention or consent, the priests’ wives found themselves in the headlines, responsible for the terrorist attacks and deaths of innocent people. Too much time and innocent blood was wasted in their names.

Somehow Shehata and Wafaa’s incidents reminded me of Helen of Troy and her murky role in flaming the Trojan War. Unlike the Greek mythology, however, the priest’s wives are real. Converting a mythology to reality may be quite pricey.

To learn more read:

The Priest’s wife

The Priest’s Wife – The Sequel

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